Wednesday, May 30, 2007

not necessarily something visible

(Who knows when I'll get to see the film, but...) Naomi Kawase, upon receiving the Grand Prix at Cannes for The Mourning Forest:
It's wonderful to have been able to make films and to continue making them. I'm happy. It's very difficult to make a film. I think it's as difficult as living; it is similar to live. In a life, you also encounter many difficulties, many things that make you suffer; there are many things that make you hesitate or stumble on your path. At those moments, I believe, you look for something deep within that can restore your confidence and strength. You try to find strengths – and I don't mean money, cars, or clothing – it's not necessarily something visible. It can be the wind, the light, the memory of the Ancients which gives us their strength. And when you find that foothold in the world, you can be all alone and go on. Thank you for appreciating my film, for recognizing what I wanted to say with it. Thank you very much! This is a wonderful world.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

recent listens

Shirley Collins' very unique 1969 album, Anthems in Eden, is a collection of medieval folk songs, starting with the 28-minute 'A Song-Story' that traces a doomed love affair through a string of stories - her voice is raw and affecting, and the musical accompaniment (provided by her sister, Dolly, among other artists) recreates a Renaissance soundscape with the use of primitive instruments like the sackbut and the crumhorn. These are songs which would not be out of place in John Huston's A Walk With Love and Death or Joao César Monteiro's Silvestre (two great films that I saw for the first time some weeks ago). The subsequent album, Love, Death & the Lady (1970), is a sparer, darker work, and perhaps as essential. Reportedly recorded during the breakdown of the two sisters' marriages, these are songs about loss, loneliness and at times, violence. Josephine Foster, I now realise, is a direct musical descendent.

To add to these is another discovery: Dorothy Carter and her first album, Troubadour (1976). This beautiful, dreamy clamour of medieval-sounding instruments (I'm told they include the hammer dulcimer and the psaltery) deserves a closer examination. For now, it's just waiting to be discovered. Along with playing these ancient instruments, Carter sings on four songs, her voice almost a psychedelic element in itself, at different times quivering with childlike wonder, or manifesting the aged wisdom of an old, old woman. I have to look into her later albums (she kept recording until her death in 2003), but they don't seem to be easy to track down... For me, these recordings are up there with Anne Briggs' The Time Has Come, Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day, and Karen Dalton's It's So Hard To Tell... as the great 'primitive-maiden-folk' albums of their time.

Some other recent discoveries and repeat listens:
Pandit Pran Nath - Midnight: Raga Malkauns
Roshan Ara Begum (many more ultra-rare performances by legendary classical Indian musicians to explore)
Pearls Before Swine - Balaklava
Pentangle - Cruel Sister / Sweet Child
William Basinski - Shortwavemusic
Arnold Schoenberg - The Piano Music (Maurizio Pollini)
Alexander von Schlippenbach - Pakistani Pomade
A. K. Salim - Afro Soul/Drum Orgy
And lots of Alice Coltrane.

(2007 music: electro-melancholy and long dusty roads.)

sing the body electric

Images from, and quotes on, the films of Matthias Müller:

Aus der ferne (1989)
"By emphasizing the materiality of the film, Müller sets up one of its most striking metaphors: the film as body. The metaphor is enacted through both the celluloid film strip and the camera. Müller's reshooting and hand-processing techniques demonstrate a fetishistic attitude to the medium. The film materializes as an object to be cherished, but it is one that can be touched and felt, subsequently undergoing a variety of transformations at the hands of its filmmaker. There is indeed a distinct eroticism to Müller's treatment of the film footage, particularly in the way his transformations of the film appear as imprints on a sensuous surface." (Roger Hallas)

Sleepy Haven (1993)
"Its mottled, fissured surfaces resemble nothing so much as a body, its solarized apertures imparting a hallucinatory beauty which threatens always to break apart entirely, the skin of its material support pitilessly stretched across their fantastical recline." (Mike Hoolboom)

Scattering Stars (1994)
"...a paean to light, a glittering bodice of a film that rapturously unfolds its subject with a shimmering luminosity. Photographed in a luminously grainy super-8, its depiction of an orgasmic fireworks display, rendered here in monochromatic explosions of light and dark, underscores a furtive male passion, bodies glimpsed in retreat..." (Mike Hoolboom)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the pataphysical gag considered as an uphill bicycle race

Gag: "More narrative and often more abstract than a sketch, the gag is short in form and relatively autonomous, and in itself does not necessarily belong to film (there are theatrical, and even musical or pictorial gags). In its most general form, it is characterised by the incongruous and surprising resolution of a situation that may or may not be realistic in its premises ... The gag, in most cases, is less inclined to mobilise cinematic language than body language." [Jacques Aumont and Michel Marie, as cited by Fabien Boully in his essay on Luc Moullet's Parpaillon (1993).]

There is a great example in Parpaillon of a kind of situational gag - one among numerous others in the film - to which the film keeps returning to: that of the girl who cannot unlock her bike from a tree (because she brought the wrong key during this important cycling rally through the Parpaillon mountain pass), tracing her narrative-fragment solely through her expressions and body language (until she eventually, triumphantly brings herself back into the race!).





Monday, May 07, 2007

on Pyaasa

"In a way, Bombay Cinema had anticipated Pyaasa. Devdas, the hero troubled by a death wish, makes way for Vijay, the poet unable to come to grips with the redefinition of the poetic vocation under postcolonial Indian capitalism. But this is to overlook what Guru Dutt finally does with the form. In his hands the form is twisted quite radically, the narrative loosened up, and we get glimpses of the possibility of the reworking of the epic form in the new capitalist order. In this reworking, the text is less rigidly structured, its plot not quite so carefully measured, and the heroic action remains ambiguous to the end. To achieve this, Guru Dutt introduces the figure of the heroine who is neither an achhut kanya (the untouchable girl of Himansu Rai's film of that name) nor a crippled nartaki (the dancer of Kismet). What we get instead is the figure of the "unromanticized" prostitute, someone like P.C. Barua's Chandramukhi (in Devdas) but without her reformist tendencies. For a brief moment women in Bombay Cinema come of age and begin to anticipate their radical representation in Indian Middle Cinema films such as Ankur (The Seedling, 1974) and Arth (Substance, 1983). But for a moment only, as Guru Dutt continues to work within what Ashis Nandy has referred to as popular middle-class cinema. Pyaasa must be read, in the final analysis, not through the thematizations of the hero as poet but through the manner in which it reads the marginalized Indian woman. With all his Romantic limitations -- Waheeda Rehman as Gulabo is both far too attractive and her sensibility is far too labored -- Guru Dutt nevertheless makes the relationship between stars and audience much more complex. In the end the text remains fragile. Despite the elements of the popular -- songs and sanitized representations that characterize the genre -- the text's fragility (formal and ideological) draws us to Guru Dutt as auteur."

- Vijay Mishra, Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire (2002).

From left: Waheeda Rehman in Pyaasa (1957); Shabana Azmi in Ankur (1974); Smita Patil in Bhumika (1977).

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